The Issue:

According to Watts Humphrey* the first of the Six Basic Principles of process change is:

        Changes Start at the Top...
Senior Management Leadership is required to launch the change effort
        and to provide continuing resources and priority

It is an axiom of process change--of any kind of change in organizations--that if it the change does not have the necessary degree of visibility and support at the level at which it is resourced, it will fail.

Our experience has been that all kinds of changes, when they are driven by the practitioners within the company, need to actively solicit and maintain effective sponsorship.  Yet most practitioners are more absorbed in the details of getting the changes defined and implemented and can be totally blindsided when the resources are withdrawn, or other priorities interfere and even cause cancellation of the initiative.

The Solution:

Process change agents and champions must consciously and intentionally set up a program to address sponsorship needs.  With our long term focus on process changes, Corvus has for a way that provides this stability and correctly aligns the initiatives with the true (though sometimes unrecognized and under-appreciated) business pressures that occur within organizations.

Each business is different and the sponsorship program must be carefully tailored to the facts on the ground.  But there are some consistent themes:

  Ensure the initiative is truly aligned with the organization's needs
This usually means translating the initiative into clearly defined profit goals.
  Analyze the supporting and resisting forces
We often use a "Force Field Analysis" approach to this.  Identifying the real reason why people resist changes helps to provide the necessary counter-measures without forcing the resistance underground.
  Support advocates, neutralize opponents
Through careful consideration of the organizational structures, roles and responsibilities, political forces, and individual personalities, the change group can provide the advocates with what they need to continue advocating and prevent the opponents from being effective in opposition..
  Build a sponsorship succession plan
This is to ensure continuation of support when the inevitable personnel changes and reorganizations occur
  Implement "Customer Service" plan
Develop and implement a "customer service" plan that specifically targets the key stakeholders (either supporters or opponents of the change) and provides them with what they truly need aligned with the proposed change.
Each situation is different, but without taking care of the true sponsoring customer base for a process change, all of the good work will be lost.


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Soliciting, Obtaining, and Maintaining Sponsorship

Case Study

Large Bureaucratic Organization

Analysis: After conducting a series of interviews in support of a process change group within a large bureaucracy, to answer the question: "...why are we not as successful as we should be?"  several themes rose to the  top.  The primary one was the relationship of the process change group to managing directors of the divisions the process change was supposed to serve.:
(a) There was solid support from the CEO, which provided "covering fire" for the change.
(b) There were a few visionary directors who saw the need for the change but even fewer who were actively supporting it.
(c) A couple of the few active supporters were going out on a limb in their support, but they didn't feel supported themselves by the process group
(d) Most of the executives were actually against the changes, for a variety of reasons.
(e) Since the changes were both sensible and had the clear support of the boss, all resistance was underground and covert.

With key process group thought leaders, Corvus created a "hearts and minds" plan to both support the advocates and counteract the negativity from the majority.  We also defined a program to try to "turn" key opponents.  These programs involved both procedural elements and what we called "high-touch customer service".  We also identified the need for sponsorship succession management in case key sponsors moved on before the changes were implemented.

Results: While the process change group created some truly state-of-the-art processes, the sponsorship initiative took a back seat to primary process definition goal, the implementation of the tools, the certification of the organization and other mechanistic elements.  The sponsorship program was shelved in favor of the program detail.  A few months later, the CEO moved on and once the covering fire was removed, the powerful vested interests removed the resources and priority from the project, leaving only some window dressing.  The team was largely disbanded and most of the work they had done was ignored.